Inspiration, Painting

How to Paint With Leaves

June 4, 2014

Make Botanical Paintings and Collages Naturally

By Alina Bradford 

leaf paintingThe key to making fantastic botanical paintings and collages is going straight to the source by painting with leaves. 

Painting with leaves is a simple process that can be mastered by children and professional artists alike. Essentially, this type of painting mimics printmaking, except that it uses watercolor and leaves instead of ink and printing plates. 


The most important supply for this project is the leaves. They need to be green and supple with thick veins. The example painting, below, was done with morning glory leaves and tomato plant leaves. Ivy, fern, maple and oak leaves are all good choices, as well. 

Here are the rest of the supplies needed for making nature paintings: 

  • Watercolor paper (you can also use handmade papers or thick computer paper)
  • Tube watercolor paints
  • Paintbrushes
  • Water
  • Pallet (a saucer or margarine lid works, too)
  • Ink brayer (optional)


Before starting to paint, cover the work surface with newspaper. Painting with leaves can be messy. When ready, use this process to create a leaf painting: 

  1. Squirt a dime-sized amount of watercolor paint onto your pallet. The best colors to use for natural looking botanical paintings are burnt sienna, burnt ochre, crimson red, sap green and yellow ochre. Use these paints full strength. Do not add water. Watery paints leave blobs on paper instead of pretty botanical prints. 

  2. Lay the leaf so that the veins are facing upward. Cover the leaf in paint, paying particular attention to the edges. For a more realistic look, dip one side of the brush in the paint, then dip the other side of the brush in a color from the same side of the color wheel. For example, crimson red and burnt sienna or sap green and yellow ochre are good choices. 
  3. Carefully pick up the leaf and flip it over, paint-side-down, onto the paper. 
  4. With clean fingertips, lightly press on the leaf, covering its entirety and paying close attention to the stem and edges. The artist can use a brayer if they like to make sure that the whole surface is pressed against the paper. 
  5. Using the stem, gently peel the leaf from the paper. An image of the leaf should be clearly painted on the paper. 

Once the artist becomes proficient, this process can be used to add natural elements to collages, abstract paintings, botanical paintings and paper crafts such as autumn wedding invitations.

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